Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Christmas traditions

Christmas is the holiday for family traditions. And Christmas has this talent for making me think in a rose-colored glasses sort of way. My mind drifts back to the traditions of the Christmas season that we celebrated when I was a small freckle-faced child growing up in rural Iowa.

Decorating the tree and the house to the sound of Alvin and the Chipmunks singing the holiday classics. (Yes, my mom did that by choice.)

The Christmas Eve church program we put on as Sunday school kids every single year. 

Driving around looking at lights with my Grandma Joyce and Grandpa Ronnie.

The holiday cookies and goodies that covered every surface of my mom's kitchen. 

Running excitedly down the stairs on Christmas morning to what felt like a mountain of presents under the tree.

They have this glossy feel that favorite childhood memories have. A feeling that everything was perfect and right in the world. There was a magical, special feeling to all the little things that happened during the month of December.

And I want my kids to have that feeling. To be able to look back fondly at special moments we celebrated as a family. Before December even arrives, I am already anticipating all kinds of magical Christmas-y activities. 
decorating the tree.
baking Christmas cookies.
looking at Christmas lights.
I smile thinking of how special it is going to be. 
The twinkling tree lights apparently affect my memory and dramatically increase my optimism. 

Before long reality sets in. 
Graham is taking ornaments and throwing them across the living room. 
Fights ensue over the set of pretend reindeer antlers. 
After 6 hours of Christmas baking, I am lacking the patience required to help preschoolers decorate cookies. Ten kinds of sprinkles?! What was I thinking?!
The hot chocolate we poured lovingly into sippy cups for the Christmas light viewing gets lost and rolls under a seat during the drive. 
Apparently the kids didn't get the memo: We're making magical memories, dammit!

Sometimes I see other families and the fun stuff they are doing this holiday season. I think, why aren't we doing that? Are we doing enough? Would our kids even behave enough for that?! Are our kids going to look back fondly at what we are doing? Are they going to remember me losing patience over the pound of sprinkles on the floor?

But the truth is, 
things weren't perfect when I was growing up either. 
In almost every picture in front of the tree on Christmas Eve, at least one of us kids is pouting or crying or crossing our arms in defiance. 
And yes, we looked at Christmas lights with my grandparents, but usually around 10 minutes in, we were more excited about the Pizza Hut they promised us than any nativity display.
I was a small child during the farm crisis of the 1980s when money was tight, and I am sure most of my presents were necessities - not the newest toy I thought I wanted.

But none of that distracts from the glowing feeling of my childhood Christmases. In the end what mattered was that my mom and dad were there on Christmas morning - Dad throwing balled up wads up paper at us, Mom in the kitchen baking turnovers for breakfast. 
Santa had showed up and there were gifts under our tree to unwrap in a wild frenzy.
Our grandparents wanted to spend time with us, even if we were just in it for the pizza.
We went as a family to Christmas Eve church and sang our little hearts out for everyone to hear.
Perfection isn't a requirement for cherished childhood memories.

Our kids are still little, and we are gradually adding to the traditions around here.

I don't put on the Chipmunks album, but we decorate together and jam to some other tunes. 

We bake cookies and try to contain the kids' enthusiasm for sprinkle throwing.

We load up and go looking at Christmas lights, hot chocolate filled sippies required.

We dress up in fancy clothes for the kids' Christmas program at church. 

They might not be storybook-quality moments, but hopefully our kids will look past the imperfections and see the love that went in to each day and every occasion - big and small - of the holiday season. Hopefully someday they will remember the rosiness of their childhood holidays just like I do. 

**And no, you didn't miscount kids. We are watching my cousin Alan's daughter Carlie while they are on vacation. So Carlie got to join in some Christmas light viewing with us. 


  1. Love you guys! Kids are adorable in their PJ's!

    1. We love you too! Can't wait to see you next week!

  2. Vanessa this is such a good post and a reassuring one. You always see those pictures of kids and homes that look perfect, or the activities that every family MUST do to have a tradition. But really it's okay if nothing is perfect, or if you don't get everything right. There have been many times when I said, "Okay we're doing a tradition of baking" and here I am doing the whole thing myself with my kids out of sight lol.

    1. I am right there with the baking! I was like, "Here kids, decorate these 10 cookies and then go watch 'Rudolph' or something!" lol

      I definitely feel some twinges of mom-guilt around the holidays. We have taken the kids to see Santa one time. I never bothered when the girls were really small. And this year we sort-of did a Santa drive-by and Bailey reported that he was too scary because "his beard was too long" for her liking, so we didn't even attempt. So yeah, sorry kids, no adorable Santa photos from your childhood!


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